11 June 2020
The National Lotteries Commission has brushed aside a request for a specific breakdown of how it has distributed R150 million earmarked to assist non-profit organisations affected by Covid-19.
The request was made by Mat Cuthbert, the Democratic Alliance’s Deputy Shadow Minister for Trade and Industry after the NLC announced a Covid-19 Relief Fund “…relief measure to NGOs/NPOs and NPCs struggling to stay afloat during this time”.
To qualify, organisations must have been funded by the NLC in the past two years or in the past five years in the case of projects that have been funded for “infrastructure projects”.
This backdating means several highly questionable projects, where millions of rands have gone astray, qualify to benefit from this fund. The time period would include projects that have received funding for infrastructural projects where tens of millions of rands have gone astray.
Cuthbert had asked, via Parliament’s Trade and Industry Portfolio Committee, for the NLC “to submit a full written list of all the non-profit organisations and non-governmental organisations” that had received Covid-19-related assistance.
In response, NLC Commissioner Thabang Mampane wrote: “The NLC contributed to supporting the government in reducing the impact of Covid-19 to the nation.” The NLC had approved an amount of R50 Million for the Solidarity Fund, R10 Million to 54 Non-Profit Entities for basic hygiene products, and food parcels, and a R150-million relief fund for distressed organisations, she said. The NLC had “received over 5,000 applications and adjudication is on-going.”
Dissatisfied with the response, Cuthbert complained to committee chairperson Duma Nkosi, who in turn asked the NLC for a more detailed response.
But the NLC once again failed to name individual beneficiaries or to say how much they received, with Mampane and NLC board chairman Alfred Nevhuanda claiming it was precluded by law from doing so. They used the same argument used when the NLC originally failed to publish the list of its 2017/18 grantees.
Instead, the NLC supplied a generic breakdown by province of the number of organisations which had benefited, totalling R10 million. It did not explain how the R150 million set aside to help struggling non-profit organisations affected by Covid-19 was disbursed.
The NLC also said that its own “evaluation of the project indicated that the relief fund had a significant impact on the lives of the vulnerable and provided much-needed relief [in] their daily lives.”
Cuthbert on Wednesday again raised the issue during a virtual meeting of the Trade and Industry committee. Committee chairperson Duma said he had received correspondence from the United Civil Society in Action raising “the same issues raised by honourable Cuthbert.” This would be discussed at the portfolio committee’s next Manco [management committee] meeting,” he ruled.
Responding to the second letter from the NLC, Cuthbert said: “The additional response we have received from the NLC … we reject… with contempt.
Cuthbert accused the NLC of hiding behind regulations of the National Lotteries Act that the NLC interprets to mean that they may not disclose grant recipient information. But he referred to sections 32 and 33 of the Constitution which deal with freedom of information.
“I do not understand how, up until the financial year 2017/2018, these beneficiary lists were made public and taxpayers were able to see how this money was being allocated for benevolent causes, with which we have no problem.
“I do believe that it is in the public interest that these beneficiaries are made public, and by public, I am only referring to the amount that is disbursed and the name of the organisation. I am not speaking of personal details like cellphone numbers, ID numbers, and the like.”
Cuthbert added that a precedent has been set “in this post-Covid time where the [Industrial Development Corporation] and the [National Empowerment Fund] have come to … explain what they are spending their money on and who is receiving this money for Covid relief disbursement. But the NLC has not bothered to come before our committee. It does not suffice that they are able to send us a letter.”
Judy Hermans, the ANC whip on the committee, agreed that the NLC should be called before the committee.
“In fact, we welcome it as part of our oversight,” Hermans said and suggested that the Committee “looks at other entities that have not reported to us on their Covid-19 interventions.”